China Power

China Risking War?

Could China’s refusal to hold Kim Jong-il to account over the Cheonan risk war with the US?

A good piece by writer and former Economist editor Bill Emmott today in the Times that makes a similar point to the one I did yesterday—that it’s time for China to step up and at least censure North Korea over the sinking of the Cheonan.

Indeed, Emmott takes the argument a step further and suggests that while international attention media is currently largely focused on the BP oil spill, that China’s current stance could ultimately precipitate a clash between the People’s Republic and the United States.

The scenario he lays out goes something like this: Kim Jong-il dies suddenly (and as Emmott notes, this isn’t an unreasonable proposition considering how frail Kim looked in footage of his recent trip to China), and there ensues a struggle over the secession. The US, concerned about the nuclear weapons that Pyongyang has falling into the wrong hands, sends in troops to secure said nukes. South Korea, meanwhile, presses for a Germany-style reunification.

According to Emmott:

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‘My guess is that [China] would send its troops to the border, and probably across it, “in the interests of stability”, but actually to keep North Korea independent and under Chinese tutelage. The stage would thus be set for the first 21st-century confrontation between two superpowers.’

As Minxin Pei wrote recently for The Diplomat, it’s time for the key powers in the region to start planning for the worst, because ignoring the problem is only likely to encourage Kim to think that there are no consequences to his reckless behavior.